April’s arrival also brought with it some interesting news. Near the end of the first week, Ricky was called and notified that he was among the finalists for the exchange program. The caller informed him he now had to write a short essay about himself, telling in more detail why he wanted to be an exchange student and why he considered himself the best candidate to represent our nation while living in another culture. Ricky was happy he was being considered a finalist, but he wasn’t thrilled about having to write more about himself. He knew he’d have to do it if he wanted to be selected, so with that in mind, he began to write the first draft of his essay.
Ricky put a great deal of thought into how he wanted to word his statement, since he really wanted to become an exchange student, but he was also worried he wasn’t the most qualified candidate. Although his grades were slightly above average, he understood he was not a great student and probably not even the best qualified to represent the U.S. Sure he was outgoing, but he also liked to goof off and joke around more than most of his peers, and he suspected this might not be exactly what the selection committee was looking for. With that in mind, he understood he had to look deep inside himself to see what made him special, and then somehow convey that information to the committee that would select those who would actually get to go. When he finished his letter, he gave it to me to look over. Here’s what I read.
After I finished reading it, I sat down and talked to him about it. He quickly asked what he should change and I told him nothing. I explained it was from his heart, did what it was meant to do and there was nothing I could suggest to improve it. He looked at me funny, like he wasn’t sure I was being honest, but then told me he trusted my judgment and would send it out the way it was. I just gave him a wink and said I thought he was a shoo-in, but he told me I was prejudiced because I was his dad. I told him that might be true, but I’d think it was a great letter even if it hadn’t come from my son. He thanked me and went off to print a clean copy, so he could send it out.
A couple of days later, I received other news. I was informed that the local sheriff’s department had picked up the young man who had attacked Trey and charged him with aggravated assault. The guy then ended up spending the next couple of nights in the local jail, which I hadn’t expected to happen. It seems he spent the first night there because no judge would be available to arraign him until the following morning, but his second evening in jail was due to the fact that his uncle couldn’t come up with the bail money.
Even though this kid was separated from the general population, the others inmates saw him being brought in and noticed his defiant attitude when he noticed any of them looking in his direction. He even gave a few of them the finger, which upset them terribly, so they yelled a myriad of taunts at him, to intimidate and strip him of his cockiness. As I understood later, the inmates usually try to scare any young person brought into jail, as their method of trying to get them to change their ways before it’s too late, so I guess there is still some good in all of us. However, in this boy’s case, this was being done more to put him in his place, rather than scare him out of a life of crime.
In the jail, there was a door between the areas where the boy was being kept and where the rest of the inmates were housed. Even though the door between the two locations was shut, the older inmates’ shouts could still be heard in the other section. Those who had been incarcerated for some time used this fact to their advantage and did everything they could to spook the young man and prove he wasn’t so tough. They began by hinting that they’d like to get to know him better and even went as far as to ask him if he’d like a boyfriend. They teased him, unmercifully, that a cute young guy like him could have lots of boyfriends in there, if he wanted to, and made kissing sounds to emphasize that point.
I learned from a corrections officer friend of mine that this treatment really bothered the boy and he was definitely concerned about what might happen to him, after hearing those repeated taunts. Not only that, but his apprehension was magnified even more by his previous claims that he despised gays and what they did. This helped to increase his fears that he was going to be dragged into some of those acts, even though he’d try to fight them off, if anyone ever tried anything of that nature.
My friend wasn’t certain if the boy responded so drastically because of his level of anxiety, lack of maturity or minimal intelligence, but he did his best to try to convince the other inmates he wasn’t concerned about their threats. In reply, he yelled back his own rude comments and managed to insult their parentage, and his inability to keep his mouth shut only fanned the flames of their dislike for him even brighter. In turn, they shouted back even worse threats and greater obscenities. I guess some people never learn.
Luckily for him, none of the prisoners could get to him for the time being, but they made sure to let him know he didn’t have the upper hand and promised to tame his foul mouth, if he were ever put anywhere near them. They also advised him they’d make sure the next time he really would have something to complain about, like a dick up his ass. They said they would request he be allowed to take showers with them, so he could pick up the soap, and then they all laughed. I guess that finally deflated the boy’s defiance a little, because the correction officer said he was very quiet for the rest of the evening. After spending those two nights in jail, he was finally released to his uncle’s custody, but I think his short stay there gave him a taste for what it would be like if he got sentenced and ended up confined there longer for what he had done. Maybe it would give him a new perspective on things, especially about how it felt to be bullied.
During this same time, the school district was addressing the issue of what action it should take, so I asked one of my friends to keep me informed about what was going on. I also requested he try to delay their decision until the court handled all of the legal issues, and he said he’d see what he could do.
I knew from watching other cases in the past that this would probably drag on for a month or more in the courts, but I was hoping the boy might just accept a plea bargain and get it over with. I even met with the D.A., to let him know what we’d consider acceptable, although I wasn’t sure he cared about what I had to say. Eventually, the D.A. did make him an offer. If the young man agreed to plead guilty to criminal mischief, a misdemeanor, and spend twelve weekends in jail, then the D.A. would classify him as a ‘juvenile offender,’ provided he didn’t get into trouble again before he turned 21. This meant his conviction would be sealed, so it would appear as though it had never happened. This also meant it wouldn’t show up on his adult record and, therefore, couldn’t be used against him again later, unless he failed to live up to his end of the bargain.
The young man finally accepted the deal and I believe we were relieved he didn’t try to fight it. I truly believe the D.A. only agreed to this after my impassioned plea that the young man not be forced to miss any school time, since I suspected he might drop out if he fell behind. Whereas, I felt if he was able to finish his education, it might afford him his only chance at having a decent lot in life. In fact, I emphasized this point several times by suggesting that if he were given this break, he might not end up as a repeat offender and this might prevent the judicial system from having to deal with him again in the future.
In addition to this, the D.A. also agreed to make certain the boy would be kept separate from the adult inmates while doing his time, but he would be required to show up each Friday by 6:00 p.m. and wouldn’t be released until 6:00 p.m. on Sunday. This would ruin a few of his weekends, but that fell far short of ruining his life.
Once this agreement was reached, the situation at the school progressed quickly too. I heard the district planned to expel him for his actions, so I asked to meet privately with the Superintendent and members of the school board. During this meeting, I expressed my sincere hope they would merely give the young man a month of in-house suspension, where he could keep up with his schoolwork and not be out roaming the streets. I even volunteered to oversee this duty, so it wouldn’t cost the district anything extra.
The board members were quick to express their surprise that I didn’t want the student expelled, since he had never formally attended any classes in the district and especially after what he had done to Trey. In reply, I explained we merely wanted the young man to learn there were consequences for his actions, but we didn’t want to ruin his life. I was concerned that if he were expelled for any length of time he might not return and then become a burden on the community, in one way or another. I also felt doing something of that nature would also increase his bitterness toward gays, as he would blame them, not himself, for what happened. After hearing me out, they agreed to consider this matter further and take my recommendation into account, before they made their final decision. I then thanked them for their time and expressed my confidence that they would do what was best for all concerned.
The evening the board met to make their final decision, I chose to attend it alone. I didn’t want the boys there, just in case others showed up to support this boy and possibly have come there looking for trouble. It turned out that very few people, other than the board members and school officials, had shown up. There were only a couple of others in attendance, outside of the boy, his aunt, uncle and myself, but they were there to speak about other matters. Once the board told the boy and his guardians of their decision, his aunt and uncle looked relieved. However, I waited quietly until the meeting ended, before walking over to them and asking if we could speak alone.
“Why?” the boy said defiantly. “Are you here to pass on more threats from your other sons?”
“Don’t you know when to shut up and listen?” his uncle asked him. “You’re so much like my brother, all mouth and no ears. From what the judge and board president have told us, this man has already done you a couple of favors, so I think he deserves to be heard.”
“What favors?” the boy followed. “Favors like sending his other sons to threaten me?”
“Didn’t you hear anything the Judge or the school board president told you?” his uncle wanted to know. “The Judge said the D.A. had recommend you do at least 90 days in jail, until Mr. Currie persuaded him to only make you do weekends. And the school board president told you they were going to expel you from school, but Mr. Currie suggested they only give you a month’s suspension instead.”
“Wow, big favors,” the boy responded, mockingly.
“They were,” his aunt interjected. “After you told us about those first two nights at the jail, would you really want to spend 90 days in there?” This time the boy didn’t have any wisecrack response, but instead just glared at his aunt, like she’d just divulged his most closely guarded secret.
“Let’s put it this way,” his uncle advised him, “we can either sit down and let Mr. Currie say his piece or you can deal with me when we get home.” I think the boy caught his uncle’s implication and meekly walked over and sat down to listen to what I had to say. Before I could begin, however, his aunt thanked me for asking both groups to go lightly on her ward.
“Look, we have nothing against your nephew,” I informed her, “and we didn’t want to see his life ruined over this one mistake.” I got that much out, before the boy interrupted me.
“No, you just sent your other sons to threaten me at the mall and make me look like a fool in front of my friends,” he spat out.
“I had nothing to do with that,” I replied, “but my other sons were just letting you know they were going to protect their brother and not let anyone harm him. They also used it to teach you what he felt like when you embarrassed him in front of a group of his peers. If they had meant to get even for what you’d done, they wouldn’t have just threatened you that day. They could have beaten the crap out of you and your buddies instead. You have to agree several of them are quite capable of doing that, if they had wanted to.” The boy didn’t respond to my comment, and his aunt and uncle meekly sat there giving him dirty looks.
“If you’ll just let me say my peace, then we can all go home,” I added, and his uncle nodded for me to continue. “Look, I just want you to know that none of my boys will go out of their way to do anything to you, unless you decide to do something like this again. They will defend their own, but they won’t come after you unless you do something first. I just want you to understand that none of these boys chose to be gay, bi or straight. Most people agree the determination for sexual orientation is at least partly genetic, although there may also be some environmental influences involved as well. However, none of them made a conscious decision to be the way they are.”
“Yeah, sure,” the boy scoffed.
“Well, did you choose to be straight?” I asked him, bluntly.
“No, man, but I’m normal,” he replied quickly, like that was all I needed to know.
“How about your height, did you choose that?” I followed. “Or maybe your eye color or skin-tone then?”
“No, you know you can’t choose things like that,” he responded, with a touch of sarcasm in his voice.
“Exactly, and people who are gay didn’t choose to be that way either,” I explained. “It’s just as they grew up, they discovered they were attracted to other boys, not girls. They didn’t choose to be like that, it was just who they were. If it were a choice, why would anyone choose to be harassed and become a target for every bigot?” The young man looked at me for a few seconds after I asked him this, but could find no words to respond.
“Exactly,” I replied for him. “Some of them even tried dating girls and wanted to become straight, but there was just no attraction, no spark. If they had continued with such a fraud, knowing they really had no feelings for those girls, it would have been unfair to both them AND the girls they were with.” The boy didn’t seem to really hear what I was saying and tried to turn away from me, but his uncle wouldn’t allow that to happen. Since his uncle seemed interested in what I had to say, he was going to pursue this topic, even if his nephew didn’t want to do so.
“Do you really believe this?” he wanted to know.
“Absolutely!” I responded. “I’ve spent many hours talking to my boys and to others about this, and I believe that being gay is in their genes, so to speak. There may also be some environmental factors that trigger this genetic switch, but whatever ends up bringing it about, the boys don’t seem to have any say in the matter.”
“I didn’t realize that,” his uncle admitted. “I think we’ve all been led to believe this is a choice people make, not something that was thrust upon them.”
“Look at it this way,” I continued. “Just as nature makes differences in how animals look and act, it also makes a difference in whom they’re attracted to. Even straight people aren’t all attracted to the same types of partners, so why should everyone be attracted to just the opposite sex? Maybe at one time it was important for the survival of the species, but that doesn’t seem to be the case any more, and history is full of examples, both in humans and other animals, about individual members of various species being attracted to members of their own sex. It’s just something that happens, but they shouldn’t be hassled for how they were born.” After saying this, I focused directly on his son, before I made my next statement.
“Let me ask you this,” I began, while staring directly in his eyes. “How would you feel if most of the world was gay and you were the one being picked on for being born straight? Would you want them treating you the same way you treat them?”
He didn’t even take time to think before he responded. “There’s no way that would ever happen!”
“Maybe not,” I stated, so as not to tune him out completely, “but would you want to be made fun of or attacked just because you were different?” The boy didn’t have a smart comeback this time and I think he might have even considered what that situation might have been like. Maybe he was finally beginning to see my point.
We talked for a little while longer, but most of the rest of the conversation went on between his guardians and myself. They made sure he continued to listen, as one or the other would nudge him whenever they thought he wasn’t paying attention, so I felt some headway had been made.
“Mr. Currie, thank you for your help and for taking the time to explain things to our nephew,” his aunt told me, before we parted. “We’re going to go home and talk about this more with him and we appreciate your help. I don’t think you’ll have to worry about him repeating his actions. Please tell your son, the one who was attacked by our nephew, how sorry we are and that we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
I told her I would and then we parted company. Although he might have learned his prejudice from his parents, it was also possible he was merely mimicking actions he had seen or heard others make. His aunt and uncle seemed pretty open-minded and I felt I might have helped to open a dialogue between his guardians and him, so they might be able to continue opening his eyes as well. There still might be hope for him yet.